SLU news

Why do (don’t) we buy organic food

Published: 04 February 2015

The organic food market, in Sweden and elsewhere, is expanding, and for the future market development it is important to better understand consumers’ motives for buying organic products, and the barriers for not buying more organic food. EPOK is now launching the knowledge synthesis ”Why do (don’t) we buy organic food and do we get what we bargain for?"

The synthesis reportEPOK has initiated this popular science knowledge synthesis to give an overview of existing literature on consumers’ motives and barriers and discuss to what extent some of these motives can be supported by scientific evidence.

In the synthesis the following main motives for buying organic food are identified:

  • Health and nutritional concerns
  • Superior taste
  • Environmental concerns 
  • Food safety and lack of confidence in the conventional food industry
  • Animal welfare

The authors, Ruben Hoffmann and Maria Wivstad state that organically produced foods undoubtedly are superior to conventionally produced food in some respects (e.g. enhanced biodiversity and no contribution to synthetic pesticides in the environment), but the scientific literature does not support a general superiority in several of the areas which consumers consider to be important.

The fact that the organic products have attributes, which consumers cannot evaluate by themselves, in combination with the lack of general univocal scientific evidence supporting the main motives puts considerable restraints on how organically produced food can be marketed.

The main barriers can however be evaluated by the consumers themselves The most important barriers are high price premium, lacking availability, scepticism of the source of information, insufficient marketing, satisfaction with current food source, and sensory defects.

There is an increasing trend of consumers demanding different ethical values including not only environmental aspects but to an increasing extent also aspects such as fair trade and locally produced food. Because of this it is important to better understand how consumers’ perception and valuation of organically labelled products are affected by co-branding, i.e. to what extent other labels (e.g. private labels, Fair trade) compete with or complement organic labels.